A new study suggests that eating fish, even in moderate amounts, helps prevent vascular disease that could eventually lead to dementia.
“Previous studies, have reported associations between fish consumption and protection against cognitive decline and risk of dementia later in life,” said lead study author Aline Thomas.
Her new study found that in healthy adults aged 65 or older, “at least two servings of fish per week may protect the brain from vascular damage, before any obvious symptoms of dementia appear,” she said.
However, there was one caveat: This protective effect was only seen in people under age 75.
In the Nov. 3 issue of the journal Neurology, she and her colleagues reported the results of brain imaging examinations of more than 1,600 men and women over age 65 (mean age 72).
None the participants had a history of dementia, stroke or heart disease.
Imaging studies were reviewed for three telltale signs of vascular disease. Imaging studies revealed the presence of small brain lesions in 2% of patients, brain cavities in 8% of patients, and fluid accumulation in brain tissue in 6% of patients.
Although these three signs may be present long before overt signs of dementia, they are all associated with an increased risk of long-term dementia and general decline in mental acuity.
At the same time, participants answered questions about their diet and the amount of fish, including salmon, tuna, and/or sardines, they consumed each week.
The group consumed fish on average about twice a week.
The research team then compared the development of brain lesions, brain cavities, and fluid accumulation in brain tissue to the fish consumption habits of each participant.
Vascular disease, which can affect blood flow to the brain, was detected in only 18% of those who ate fish four times a week and in 23% of those under age 75 who ate fish three times a week.
In comparison, nearly one-third of those who did not eat fish had developed key markers of vascular disease.
In contrast, nearly one-third of those who did not eat fish had developed key markers of vascular disease.
The study authors emphasized that their results show an association, and do not actually prove that fish consumption can prevent the development of dementia.
However, the question arises as to why such an association was not observed in people aged 75 years and older.
“The brain needs omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon and sardines to develop and stay healthy throughout life,” says Lona Sandon, who also notes that brain tissue is made up of these healthy fats. “Omega 3s are just as important for brain health and promoting clear brain vessels as they are for heart health.”
She adds that it’s not just the elderly who can reap significant health benefits, noting in particular that “the need for healthy fats starts in early childhood for the brain to grow and develop properly.”
The takeaway from this study, she says: “Don’t wait. Start eating fish and other sources of omega 3s, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, now.
To promote health and longevity with a clear mind, start young and consume fatty fish often.”